from The Pot Thief Who Studied Escoffier by Mike Orenduff
I’m happy to introduce Detective First Grade Whit Fletcher from the Albuquerque Police Department. He was born in Tucumcari in 1960. After graduating from Tucumcari High School where he made second team all-state as a defensive tackle, he joined the Army and trained as an MP at Fort Leonard Wood. He received an honorable discharge in 1981 and enrolled in the New Mexico Police Academy. He joined the APD in 1982, eventually working his way up to Detective First Grade in 1996.
Detective Fletcher, tell us about this case.
How long you got? Cause whenever a case involves Hubert Schuze, it gets complicated. I suppose you know he’s a pot thief, but that don’t bother me none.
Excuse me, did you say pot thief? What do you mean?
He goes out in the desert and digs up pots made by people who were here before the white man came. Hell, maybe before the Indians we got today came. Some of those pots are a thousand years old, and most of them got holes you could through a cat through. But the Federal Government made digging them up illegal a few years back. Must have been a slow day in Congress. Anyway, I got more important crimes to deal with than someone digging up old pots. Besides, he makes a good living doin’ it, and some of that money has found its way into my pockets. Not as bribes, unnerstand; I’m an honest guy. But seems like in most of his cases, there are a few stray pots around, and he and I split any money that might come from finding them pots a good home. But this case was different because he got involved with a restaurant.
Well, we all know he likes to cook.
Yeah, but they hired him to make plates. And wouldn’t you know it, one of the cooks ends up dead and the poison turns out to be – let me check my notes here – barium carbonate, which just happens to be one of the chemicals he was using to glaze the plates.
So that made him a suspect.
Yeah. I told him the coroner found a fresh needle mark when they did the autopsy and a bump on his head that the coroner said was from a blow that was probably strong enough to knock the victim out but not enough to kill him. So they figured someone conked him on the noggin and shot him full of poison. Trouble is, the toxicology scan didn’t show any poison. There was evidence of a heart attack, so the coroner was thinking about going with that old standby, natural causes. Then the police got an anonymous phone call telling them that the victim died from barium carbonate poisoning. Seems barium carbonate is not one of the chemicals the toxicology scan tests for. I said to Hubert,“That was pretty sharp of you, Hubert, to use a poison they wouldn’t find. If your accomplice hadn’t ratted you out, you would’ve gotten away with it.”
He said, ““Accomplice? I didn’t have an accomplice.”
And I said, “You done it all by yourself?”
“No,” he says, “I didn’t do it at all, by myself or with an accomplice.”
I told him, “Think about it Hubert. Like you say, you got no reason to kill Stiles. Dorfmeister and Stiles had some sort of a run-in at the restaurant, maybe argued about whose silly hat should be taller. So Dorfmeister decides to get you to help him. I can’t see you sticking a needle in anybody, so he probably just asked you to supply the poison, knowing you would get blamed. But the good news is that if you admit what really happened, you can probably get off with just accessory before the fact.” Then I had a brainstorm and said, “Matter of fact, you could just say he borrowed some of that barium stuff, and you had no idea what he wanted it for. You might walk on this one.”
But Hubert has funny rules, so he says, “I’ve got a better story. The barium carbonate was stolen from me, and I had nothing to do with the murder. And the best part about that story is it’s true.” I tell you, I was disappointed. I told him, “When did truth ever have anything to do with it? What matters is what a jury believes. You try your story and you come off as a guy trying to wash his hands of any responsibility. But you say you were duped by a friend, and you get the sympathy vote.” Turns out his fancy lawyer got him out of it, so he didn’t have to face a jury, but he did get arrested for larceny. They thought he was skimming money from the restaurant
That doesn’t sound like Hubert.
Course it doesn’t. But I had to serve the subpoena anyway. I told him, “This here is a subpoena duces tecum. You are charged with larceny and ordered to appear in court next Thursday and bring all personal and business bank statements for the last two months as well as records of credit card transactions of any and all accounts, both personal and commercial.” Then I said to him, “What the hell you been up to, Hubert?” He said, “I’ve been running a restaurant. What’s larceny?”
How did it all work out?
The good news is that Hubert figured out who did it. The bad news is the restaurant went broke. Come to think of it, maybe that was good news as well. The place was serving Austrian dishes with names like Schokogugelhupf. You could break a jaw just trying to pronounce them. Then Hubert tried to save the day by combining Austrian and New Mexican – called it ‘fusion,’ whatever that means. That one dish though – the schnitzel con tres chiles – wasn’t too bad.
Thank you for being with us today, Detective Fletcher. Maybe Hubert can make you some schnitzel con tres chiles.
Mike Orenduff is the winner of the 2011 Lefty Award. Detective Fletcher appears in all four of his Pot Thief books. Information on his books can be found on his website at www.orenduf.org. He loves to hear from readers and can be reached at